In a typical year, our attention following the Kentucky Derby quickly turns to a Triple Crown possibility. In the years between 1978 to 2015, the hope of finding our next Triple Crown winner was slowly dwindling as the disappointments of another near miss kept piling up. The desperation for another legend was enormous, while some began to believe that it would never happen again.
During this prolonged period, 13 horses made their mark on the Triple Crown by winning the first two legs before they came up short in the final leg. In that group was Bob Baffert, a trainer who burst onto the scene with Silver Charm in 1997. One year later, he returned with Real Quiet on the 20th anniversary of Affirmed. This horse appeared destined to erase a Triple Crown near-miss heartache as the one that was game enough to capture all three jewels. It was close, really close, but Real Quiet joined Silver Charm on the list of memorable winners that scored in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but proved why the Triple Crown is hard to win.
Three years later, Baffert returned to the Kentucky Derby with a horse that many believed was his best shot at winning the Triple Crown. Though Point Given was good enough to win the Belmont Stakes on the heels of capturing the Preakness Stakes, it was the first jewel that became his only loss of the 3-year-old season.
Bob Baffert's hot streak continued the following year, but it was an unexpected Triple Crown candidate. Though War Emblem earned him the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, his bid for the ultimate triumph was not as close in the Belmont Stakes. So the dreams of finally breaking through faded away once again.
After those years and eight Triple Crown victories, Baffert added only one more Triple Crown win between 2002 through 2015 when Lookin at Lucky won the Preakness Stakes in 2010. His dominance in the Triple Crown reached an unbelievable success level, but that era appeared to be gone. It might have been easy to assume that his best years were behind him, but Baffert's next wave of Triple Crown success would land him in the record books.
In 2015, a new optimism emerged. American Pharoah, trained by Baffert, shipped to Arkansas from Southern California, where he had scored two grade one victories in his Juvenile season. From his new barn at Oaklawn Park, American Pharoah returned two more wins in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before heading north to Churchill Downs. Upon winning the Kentucky Derby, the thoughts of a new Triple Crown winner that would end the dreaded curse were prevalent as ever, but this time the dream came true.
Three years later, Bob Baffert returned to the spotlight when one of the horses in his barn re-introduced us to one of the most talked-about trends in Kentucky Derby history — winning the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old. It hadn't happened since Apollo in 1882, but Justify didn't budge when he romped home in the rain to start his quest to become the next Triple Crown champion.
After Justify scored at Pimlico before completing this Triple Crown glory, the win made Bob Baffert the most successful Triple Crown trainer, with 15 wins. He also joined Jim Fitzsimmons as the only other trainer to win the Triple Crown twice.
With that in the rear-view mirror, and 2-year-old horses in the barn, Bob Baffert had only one more iconic record to equal: the most Kentucky Derby wins by a trainer. To conquer that goal, he brought quite a trio to the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Though he had the horses — Improbable, Game Winner and Roadster — they didn't have their best day.
When 2020 began, there was a slew of horses in Baffert's barn that could win the Kentucky Derby. When the day finally arrived, he had only one Kentucky Derby starter that reached the starting gate, but he delivered one of the most memorable wins in the Kentucky Derby history.
As Authentic became the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner with an impressive performance on the first Saturday in September, Bob Baffert tied Ben Jones for the most Kentucky Derby wins by a trainer. He also extended his record number of Triple Crown wins to 16.
Baffert continues to excel in the Triple Crown, and he has a chance for 2020 to become the fifth year that he captures two of the three jewels if Authentic and Thousand Words move on to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. Although the Triple Crown races were scheduled out of order this year because of COVID-19, this will be the third time he is attempting to win the the final two legs of the Triple Crown after losing or not starting a horse in the first. If Thousand Words prevails, it will be the first time that two different Baffert horses won two jewels of the Triple Crown in the same year.